The chili harvest of West Texas, southern New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico, begins in late summer and lasts through the first hard frost. You can encounter the smell of chilies roasting anywhere, with the frequency and randomness I associate with leaves burning in New England. I didn’t know this until I went to New Mexico, where I’d traveled for the Hatch Chile Festival, an event every native or long-termer politely advised me to avoid. (“Well, it’s a nice drive,” they’d say, and they were right about that.)
But I didn’t need to go to Hatch — the self-proclaimed chili capital of the world — to find these roasted chilies. At many farms, supermarkets, farmers’ markets and street corners in Las Cruces, people buy green chilies by the mesh sack — 8 pounds, or 20, or 40 — and then pay someone with a gas-powered, hand-cranked, lotto-drum-like steel basket to roast them on the spot. The smell is intoxicating, as the peppers tumble around in the roasters, their seeds popping from the intense heat. It takes just a few minutes to roast 20 pounds.
I didn’t just smell these chilies, of course; I ate them. A lot of them. I had chilies stuffed (rellenos-style), pulverized (in salsa) and chopped with pinto beans (inside burritos). All fantastic.
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Maine, to the outsider’s view, seems as food-conscious right now as California. (The Winter/Spring issue of Maine Policy Review, devoted to food and with a very cool cover, is 250 pages, some of which are even worth reading.) Of course it’s all whom you talk to, but it sure was easy enough to meet people who wanted to talk food. (And that, as we know, is happening everywhere, increasingly. Good.)
I was encouraged to come up by Ingrid Bengis-Palei, who’s been supplying top chefs in New York and elsewhere with Maine scallops, lobsters, sea urchins and more, for more than 20 years. (She has kept FedEx profitable.) I first encountered her name when Eberhard Müller was chef at Le Bernardin; that, I think, was in 1988. (Eberhard and I went scalloping that winter on Nantucket, not because we were afraid of Maine but because we were after bay scallops, not the huge sea scallops for which Maine is justifiably known.)
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North Haven, Me.
When Brenna Chase was farming in Connecticut a few years back, new farmers weren’t always welcome by oldsters. The pie, she says, just wasn’t big enough. “But now,” she said to me here, where she now farms, “the feeling is that the pie is getting bigger and that the more people that get into this the better it will be for everyone.”
By “this,” she means sustainable farming (here I use the term interchangeably with “organic” because many ethical farmers can’t afford organic certification), and the poised 33-year-old, who began farming in high school, is representative of young people I’ve met all over the country. These are people whose concern for the environment led to a desire to grow — and eat — better food. And although chefs still get more attention, the new farmers deserve recognition for their bold and often creative directions.
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In May, I went to Iowa, primarily to learn more about so-called conventional agriculture, those thousand-acre farms growing corn and soybeans, planted, tended and harvested largely by machine. (We have plenty of the other type — what’s variously called traditional, or alternative, or non-conventional — in the Northeast.) But thanks to an auspicious combination of topsoil, climate, topography and weather, Iowa is among the best locales for farming in North America, and I saw a wide range of practices.
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(Photo Credit: Quentin Origami via Flickr)
Today is the first “normal” day I’ve had in more than two weeks. I know this because I had steel-cut oats (with soy, mirin, and rice vinegar, fantastic) for breakfast. Otherwise I couldn’t tell.
Last week began in Philly, with a talk at the Free Public Library; I thought it went well. Loads of people, all very friendly. Finished signing at 9.00 or so, and ate at the hotel, the Palomar. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised; I know Kimpton (the hotel chain) tries to work on its restaurants, but I haven’t been that impressed overall. But Square 1682 was really, really good: a warm octopus salad, followed by a tiny little cassoulet … obviously not a big enough sample to judge by, but I’d go back. Not that I know when I’ll be in Philly again.
Oftentimes when I’m signing books for people they ask if they can take my picture. Last week in St. Louis I (for the first time) replied, “Fine, if I can take yours.” Really fun. Here are some of them.
I have nothing against milk in a bag, but I have to admit I was astonished. Note also she included my pot-smoking anecdote.
I spoke at the Healthy Food Summit in Minneapolis Thursday and Friday, to mostly large, hyper-friendly, and ever-thoughtful crowds. My hosts Mindy Kurzer and Tim Kenny did a terrific job of organizing the packed two-day affair, and made me feel completely at home. Dinner Thursday was cooked by the talented and wonderful local chef Lucia Watson and her crew; Lucia also introduced me that night, so nicely I blushed.
Tim is director of education at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, a spectacular 1000-plus acre operation about half an hour from downtown Minny. He does fantastic work teaching kids the value of gardening, about which he is passionate.
And how about these cucurbits?
Now: Off to Philly, DC, Miami, and St. Louie.
I love Denver. First and foremost, a guy called me a “swell fellah.” You think that EVER happens in New York? No. “Good guy” maybe, but that’s not the same thing.
Denver is a tad generic, but the people are – as they are most everywhere in the West – from all over the place, generally friendly, and generally genuine. The weather is spectacular, or it has been whenever I’ve been here. The airport is essentially in Nebraska, but you can drive really fast so it only takes two hours to get into town. (This is an exaggeration but anyone who has flown in knows it can feel that way.) It takes an hour to get from curbside to the gate, too; this is the biggest airport in the country.
Your reporter writes from a plane flying from Pittsburgh to Denver.
Last night I had the rare but not unprecedented privilege of having someone else cook my food for me. Not only for me, but for 60 of my closest friends, or at least 60 of my closest friends in Pittsburgh. And it was not only “someone” cooking the food, but my (actual) friend Andrew Morrison, who was the opening chef at Habitat, the topnotch restaurant in Pittsburgh’s new Fairmont hotel.
Andrew’s fairly straightforward but beautiful interpretations of some of the dishes from The Food Matters Cookbook reinforced my feeling that he’s not only ultra-competent but creative enough to have a brilliant future. Pittsburgh is lucky to have him and, from what I could tell in the few hours I was there, it’s a good place to be.